Sapsford snatches three Derby points

Western Sydney are on top of the league and on top of their city after downing Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

On a night that underlined the issues facing new Sky Blues boss Ufuk Talay, a second-half goal for Zac Sapsford proved enough to settle a nervy and stop-start encounter at Allianz Stadium and send his team back to the summit of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Though a potentially serious injury to striker Brandon Borrello marred an otherwise perfect night for the visitors, it was his replacement – a former Sydney FC youth player – who clinched the victory.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 25: Zac Sapsford of the Wanderers celebrates with teammates after scoring the teams first goal during the A-League Men round five match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium, on November 25, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

The fact it came at the home of their bitter rivals just added to the piquancy of the win; there wasn’t the swagger and slew of goals that marked their 4-0 triumph here in March, but any derby win is to be treasured.

Western Sydney thought they had gone ahead inside 10 minutes, when a deep cross was headed back across goal by Nicolas Milanovic and turned in by Marcus Antonssen. The Wanderers faithful burst into celebration, only to realise that VAR was checking for an offside that eventually was confirmed against the Swedish striker.

Reprieved, Sydney tried to take hold of the contest. Jaiden Kucharski sent a shot fizzing narrowly wide from distance, and Joe Lolley brought a flying save from Lawrence Thomas with his own shot on goal.

Western Sydney’s game plan had been significantly affected by a first-half tackle from Luke Brattan that chopped Brendon Borrello to the floor, and – a few minutes later – out of the contest – possibly out of January’s Asian Cup too.

Still the visitors went close, with captain Marcelo thumping a header against the bar and Jorrit Hendrix shooting wide from the edge of the box after a storming run forward.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 25: Dylan Pierias and Marcelo of the Wanderers celebrate victory during the A-League Men round five match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium, on November 25, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

With 55 minutes gone Sydney had a glorious chance to go ahead, when Thomas slipped as he tried to clear the ball, sending it straight to Kucharski on the edge of the box; the Sydney youngster fired a shot at goal, but watched with incredulity as Thomas leapt to deflect it away.

Soon after Kucharski won the ball and drove into the Wanderers box, only to blaze wildly over; the pain would be compounded moments later when the visitors took the lead.

Antonssen’s aerial prowess helped to create it, beating two Sydney defenders to a long ball forward and flicking it into the path of Dylan Pierias who was racing clear. Pierias in turn touched it on to Sapsford, who cut inside Jake Girdwood-Reich and shot past Andrew Redmayne with remarkable composure.

Sydney struggled to find a way back into the contest, reduced to shots from distance that never looked like troubling Thomas. The red and black celebrations at the final whistle were emphatic.